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Fall 2000

Hope Springs Eternal

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To supplement the home visits, families come to the Hope Street facility, which occupies the bottom two floors of a building adjacent to the hospital. Monthly parent meetings take place in this spacious, clean and inviting center. There also is time for parents and children to play in the classrooms, which are also the setting for Even Start, a family-literacy project funded by the California Department of Education.

The language-enriched focus of Even Start - structured around a "creative curriculum" in which children learn while they play - complements Early Head Start's goals and continues to stimulate and develop those who have graduated from the program.

Language development, though a primary concern, is not the only need of these children. "A lot of the families are in very cramped quarters, so many of the kids are lagging in their gross-motor skills," says outreach coordinator Annabel Sherk, who has been with Hope Street since its inception. "For cognition development, often our children can benefit from a more enriching environment than is available in their homes."

Coming to the colorful, bright, roomy classrooms boasting smiley yellow suns painted on the walls, pint-sized furniture, playhouses and shelves brimming with books and toys, the children get the right stimulation to jump-start their developing minds and bodies. Says Martha Sapien, a mother of four: "Edgar, at 4, knows his ABCs and how to count. Eileen, who's 9 months, learned to crawl here. She enjoys being with the books and knows how to turn pages. She babbles when she sees the pictures. My children are all happy to be here."

Parents, too, are joyous at the improvements they see in their children. For some, it is a 180-degree turn from their initial perceptions of the program. "In the beginning, some parents were wary of us," says Lillian Ulloa, an infant-development teacher. "But now, parents see results. They know we're here to benefit them."

In a sense, Hope Street is as much a learning experience for the parents as for the children. Says Alma Clara, the mother of an 11-month-old: "We are learning different ways to raise the children, the process of their development and the reasons for doing certain things with them."

And while the children are learning in Even Start, the parents are themselves learning English phrases, grammar and sentence construction in an on-site class, as well as parenting and computer skills.

For many of the mothers, previously isolated at home taking care of their children, this is something of a dream come true that has provided them with a sense of empowerment and friendship.

"Before, we were more shy," says Clara. "Now we're more open. We share. We communicate more. We talk about and compare our children, but not in a competitive way. Before, I was just at home, not involved in anything. Now I don't feel so lonely."

Says M. Lynn Yonekura, director of perinatal services and executive director of family-support services at California Hospital: "Helping children develop means that we also have to help the families develop to help the parents achieve everything they want to achieve for themselves so they can transmit that to their children."

For those families in which both parents work full time, Hope Street offers subsidized child care through its Child Development Center, located two blocks away. The center is also structured around the creative curriculum, so development is constantly stimulated.

There also are enrichment programs for older, school-age siblings through the Hope Street Youth Center, which offers after-school academic and recreational programs. In a community where 89 percent of students read below grade level, and the average student is more than three years behind, a mentoring program called HOSTS - staffed by volunteers from downtown offices, the hospital and, this fall, UCLA - has been able to increase reading levels by an average of one grade for each six months of involvement in the program. A Los Angeles Unified School District continuation, or alternative, high school rounds out the programs offered on-site by Hope Street.

"Really, the kids see this place as their hangout," acknowledges Segovia, the social-services coordinator. "They play and converse and interact in a way that's constructive and positive. The youth center offers a safe haven for young children and serves as an alternative to the streets."

Hope Street is one of five community centers in low-income areas partnered with UCLA under a new initiative called CERC (Community Education Resource Center), which is part of Chancellor Albert Carnesale's effort to renew, redefine and reinvigorate the university's public-service mission and outreach to the community. (The other CERC sites are The 100 Black Men organization in Inglewood; Projecto Pastoral at Dolores Mission in East Los Angeles; the Elizabeth Learning Center in Cudahy; and the Watts Labor Community Action Committee.) At Hope Street, UCLA has identified pilot activities that include increasing and varying after-school activities, enhancing tutoring and literacy programs and designing a comprehensive arts and culture program.

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